The Best Third Baseman of All Time?

Since FanGraphs introduced sortable Major League Leaderboards that cover multiple positions and seasons, it’s been much easier to compare players who played in different eras. It’s also useful for settling debates, such as “who is the greatest _____ of all time.” All you have to do is look up the position and set the years, and you’ve won bragging rights over all your baseball friends. Well, if you’ve spent some time looking at the leaderboards lately, you may have noticed a significant change, particularly at third base. Very recently, Alex Rodriguez passed Mike Schmidt in career WAR; meaning you could make the argument that A-Rod is now the best third baseman of all time. Rodriguez is one of the more polarizing athletes in the sport, so let’s explore whether he deserves this title.

There are two main issues up for debate when discussing A-Rod’s candidacy for best third baseman of all time. (I’m sure there are plenty more, but these are the two that immediately come to mind).

First off, what do we make of Rodriguez’s mid-career positional change? Rodriguez came up as a shortstop, and accumulated more than half of his WAR at that position (63.8 compared to 110.8). While the fielding metrics rated A-Rod as an uneven shortstop, his defense hit a wall once he shifted to third base. As a shortstop, A-Rod not only managed to produce at a ridiculous offensive rate, but his defense seemed to be more of an asset, as well.

Then, the trade happened. A-Rod agreed to a trade that would send him to the New York Yankees to play third base. Despite all he had accomplished at shortstop, A-Rod thought it was time to make the switch.

I don’t see it as a big deal at all. I look at it as a new challenge. I won two Gold Gloves and an MVP at shortstop. I thought I achieved just about everything personally at shortstop. Now it’s time to win. I’ve always thought of myself as a team player. Playing third base is the ultimate team move

While it would seem A-Rod broke his arm patting himself on the back with that quote, many analysts viewed his shift to third as selfless at the time. Say what you will about A-Rod, but he gave up a legitimate chance to go down as the greatest shortstop in history to move to third. He did this even though many argued he was a much better defender at the position than Derek Jeter.

Due to issue number two, it’s become tough to define any decision made by A-Rod as “selfless.” In February 2009, A-Rod admitted to taking PEDs at certain points during his career. PEDs are a difficult subject to cover; as most people have already taken a side in the debate. You either believe using PEDs and steroids is a violation of the game, and would never support a known PED user, or you are willing to look past the PED/steroids issue. Either way, this affects the way people will view A-Rod’s legacy.

On one hand, A-Rod is clearly one of the greatest players of all-time regardless of position. It wouldn’t have mattered where he played on the field, A-Rod would have produced like a Hall of Famer. While he accumulated much of his value playing another position, A-Rod moved to third to help his team and still proved to be a tremendous player after the position switch. Perhaps it’s more impressive that A-Rod excelled at a tougher defensive position before making the switch to third?

On the other hand, A-Rod isn’t a third baseman in the way Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews and Brooks Robinson are considered third baseman. They played their entire careers at the position and accumulated all of their value at the hot corner. A-Rod is also an admitted PED user, and that is not looked upon kindly in the baseball world.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer either way, but with A-Rod there’s sure to be some interesting opinions.

*Big hat tip to my good friend Monty, who first alerted me that A-Rod was the career leader in WAR at third base.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


149 Responses to “The Best Third Baseman of All Time?”

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  1. Garrett says:

    The PED argument is fucking retarded and specious.

    Hank Aaron – PED User – Shitbag obv

    -84 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Terry Boers says:

      Greenies are the same as redbull ya dumb bitch.

      -40 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • A guy from PA says:

        Except Greenies are illegal and criminal prosecution is warranted for using them. They are more restricted than steroids. They improve focus and concentration IIRC, which seem more integral to baseball success than raw power.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        lol not even close

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      • EarlSweatshirtinSamoa says:

        “They improve focus and concentration IIRC, which seem more integral to baseball success than raw power.”

        If you want to oversimplfy it then you are correct. They marginally improve focus and concentration…but the majority of HGH/steroids don’t have marginal effects at all. Its laughable to think steroids only improve raw power, or that the effect is on the same level as the effect greenies have on your concentration. I think the effects of steroids are overstated, but your comparison isn’t really logical. I’ve always thought it was absurd to say PED’s don’t help you hit a baseball…additional core strength directly translates to higher bat speed, if you have a quicker bat you hit more pitches. This ignores all the other benefits as well.

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      • west says:

        This is exactly what the Real Terry Boers would say

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      • BDF says:

        Greenies are not a PED. I work in the field, and I defy you to find one medical professional who would agree that any kind of amphetamine would enhance performance on anything other than the shortest of short-term bases. Whether in the form of dextroamphetamine sulfate–greenies–or crystal meth, amphetamines just don’t improve anything that humans do over any length of time. They might help you for a day or a week or possibly even a month, but no longer than that.

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      • Garrett says:

        BDF, sure. Would you like to wager money on it?

        Or perhaps we could use the MLB drug policy as guidance.

        Either way its immaterial as most idiots believe the vilification of steroids and betting on baseball while ignoring other cheaters in a variety of formats, much less the usage of non-tested, non-explicitly banned substances. The writer, much like most of the comments, is misled and confused. The health effects of steroid use are frequently a net positive (herp derp derp HRT), yet for some reason the public doesn’t understand the dosages necessary for improved athletic performance, the effects, or who it would most benefit.

        Beyond that, the ethical argument of “lol cheater” is blind to the dosages or effects. Throw the WS, throw a game, bet for your team, bet against your team. Why should we attempt to determine the relative “wrongness” of events when a clear line is laid out for us (hello rules say hi)? Its a fool’s errand, yet one that all the faux intelligentsia attempts to go down.

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      • Nat Haniel says:

        It’s also immaterial because there was more going on in baseball at the time then just PEDs. Balls were jumping out of stadiums during this “PED era”, but I’d bet it had more to do with the ball being juiced than drugs being used.

        But that’s what ERA+ is for, and Schmidt’s career ERA+ is greater than ARod’s, and he was a much better defender.

        Schmidt was better.

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    • Garrett says:

      Herp derp derp. Dosage/not all steroids have same effect.

      The comments are worse than the article.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Hank Aaron tried greenies ONCE, felt like he was going to have a heart attack, and left them alone.

      If you want to consider that PED usage as being in the same realm as guys that were doing full cycles of PEDs, then that’s your choice.

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      • Manny Ortez says:

        and A-Rod only roided up from 2000 to 03
        oh wait a minute….

        not saying Hank did PEDs but lets not pretend that because someone said they only did it once that it’s true

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        So, what’s the alternative?

        At this point, when one is throwing Hank Aaron into the “PED User” group, I think we need more evidence than the assumption that he’s lying with his admission for trying greenies one time and having a bad experience.

        It’s just incredibly absurd to throw Hank Aaron into the PED User group, as we commonly understand it based on the information we have.

        I concede that Hank Aaron could be fibbing about his greenie use. I think the nature of the experience illustrates truth, but I acknowledge that he could be lying. I would question why his former teammates haven’t come out and said he’s lying and they gave him greenies on multiple occasions.

        What I don;t like is the equating of Aaron trying greenies with guys that are intentionally engaging in full cycles of hormone-based PEDs.

        I stole chewing tobacco when I was in 6th grade. You might as well put me in the same “thief group” as Madoff and Ken Lay.

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  2. PlaysTheGameRight says:

    What, no George Brett?

    +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. gu03alum says:

    Adrian Beltre

    -27 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Josh Watson says:

    If you take his time as 3B, then surely not even close. I guess the real question depends what your looking for. If it is defense then Schmidt, Robinson, Rolen, Beltre are probably the best. If it is offense then Schmidt, Mathews, Brett, Boggs, and Chipper are probably the top 5. Either way Schmidt is the best in my opinion.

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    • Lenard says:

      To declare a player has the best third baseman of all time, I feel you need to take both defense and offense into account at the same time. He (whoever it may be, I’m not trying to decide who deserves what right now) may not be the best at offense or defense, but combined he could rise to the top. So really, you could have 3 different players as the “best” third baseman: one for his offensive production, one for his defensive value, and a third that combines both factors. It all depends on what you’re looking for I guess.

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  5. DBML says:

    Schmidt = #1
    Chipper = #2

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  6. Matt says:

    Pedro Feliz?

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  7. Joel says:

    Why would WAR aquired elsewhere enter into the discussion of greatest _thirdbaseman_?

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    • Steve says:

      Because you could frame the question as “greatest player to call 3B his primary position”.

      It’s just two different ways of looking at it.

      And b/c your way doesn’t produce anything to write an article about….

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Adam says:

      Same reason why Ichiro will probably be inducted into the American Baseball HOF, despite his American career only beginning at age 27, and ~2991 TB (current total) being low for a HOF corner outfielder. People understand context.

      +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. TheGrandslamwich says:

    *

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  9. Anthony R says:

    I hope this isn’t premature

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  10. Motor City Joe says:

    1. Inge
    2. Inge
    3. Brooks Robinson

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  11. D4P says:

    Brooks Robinson had a career OPS of .723.

    Just sayin’.

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  12. waynetolleson says:

    Knowing this website, I thought for sure this was going to be an article about Brandon Inge.

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  13. Antonio Bananas says:

    I may be wrong here, but because the tradition of what a 3B “does” over time has changed, shouldn’t you only judge a 3B to their era and see how much better they are than their era. For some reason I’m thinking that in Brooks Robinson’s era 3B were mostly defensive guys. Brooks was more superior defensively than Schmidt was offensively.

    It’s a shame Chipper has had knee problems. If he had better knees he’d be the best 3B and maybe the best switch hitter of all time. Still, his career .300/.400/.500 slash shows he’s one of the best all around hitters of all time.

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    • adam says:

      I think we’ll let The Mick keep that title.

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    • fredsbank says:

      mickey mantle also had knee problems.

      mantle .298/.420/.557/.977 wOBA .431 wRC+ 171 WAR 123.1 (rated as -44 defensive runs in CF, which i dont agree with but we’ll use it here)
      jones .305/.404/.533/.937 wOBA .400 wRC+ 143 WAR 86.1, -36.1

      mantle
      vs RHP: .281/.418/.546/.964 369 HR 5257 AB
      vs LHP: .330/.424/.575/.999 161 HR 2736 AB

      jones
      vs RHP: .304/.407/.543/.950 340HR 6050 AB
      vs LHP: .307/.395/.508/.903 101 HR 2291 AB

      mantle’s weaker side numbers (he always said he was a better hitter righty than lefty, and he was right) are better than chipper’s stronger side numbers… in what possible universe is chipper jones a better hitter than mantle?

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • GTStD says:

        I’m not sure Antonio’s point was that Chipper was a better hitter than Mantle. I think his point was that Chipper’s health problems have restricted his potential. Yes, Mick’s did too, but that’s somewhat beside the point. If Chipper hadn’t had knee problems, we might be sitting here saying “Chipper is the best switch hitter of all time, but if Mick hadn’t had health problems, that would be different”. If Mick hadn’t had those problems, we might be saying that Chipper is nowhere close to him.

        Looking at the numbers, it’s clear from what has actually happened… oft-injured Chip vs. oft-injured Mick… Mantle was a better hitter, and certainly a more dominant presence in the league. Accounting for positional differences though, getting that kind of production out of a 3B may be considered as more valuable than getting that kind of value out of an OF.

        One thing I am curious about… and if anyone has seen an article somewhere on this, please post… is if the value of a switch hitter has changed somewhat. Did managers in Mantle’s day engage in handedness matchups with pitchers late in games as often as managers nowadays do? Given the increasing use of specialized bullpens and LOOGYs, I’m betting that Mantle’s switch-hitting skill wasn’t as valuable as Chipper’s is.

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      • Anthony says:

        This conversation is a joke right? Yes, Chipper was a 3B, but Mantle was a CENTERfielder, not just any old outfielder. Both had health issues and Mantle was far and away the better player. Not to mention in the top ten players to ever walk onto a baseball field. Chipper is not within the top 50 to play the game. Mantle = 172 Career OPS+, Jones = 141 Career OPS +. Oh, and that’s with the same amount of seasons played and only 40 more games for Mantle as of today. Put Chipper in your lineup and you still need at least one above average outfielder. Put Mantle in and nobody could care less about your third baseman.

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      • fredsbank says:

        mantle wasn’t just OF, he was CF, which along with SS is the position with the most dearth of offense…

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    • EdwardM says:

      Unfortunately he call himself “Chipper” so he looses points for that – I set the rate at -.25 WAR per season.

      As for A-Rod vs. the rest, at 3B he simply never became as polished a fielder as Schmidt or some the others. Not to say we was poor simply that his best days in the field were when he was younger and played SS.

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  14. db says:

    Arod has played about 250 more games at short than at third. Hard to consider him a 3bman. Banks is generally considered a shortstop and he played about 125 more games at first than at short.

    If you want to start a debate about whether Arod is better than Schmidt, that is fine, but I think Arod vs. Wagner is the right comparison (and I vote for the dead one).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • fredsbank says:

      but that’s because banks was more famous for it, which is arod more famous for? probably the yankee years….

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    • Jason B says:

      “Arod has played about 250 more games at short than at third”

      which, again, should be remedied by late 2011-early 2012.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • cobradc23 says:

        How could that be remedied by late 2011? Did MLB decide to add 88 games to the season and I missed it? It could be remedied by mid to late 2012.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        pretty irrelevant when exactly he’ll pass it, because he will. besides are there really many non-texas/seattle fans that think of him as anything other than a yankees 3B? bueller?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason B says:

        You didn’t get the memo? They moved every year back by one. We had a meeting to discuss it last week, but you probably thought you missed it because it was dated June 1, 2010.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Brent says:

    Where’s Chipper Jones? For some reason, he never gets talked about but his numbers are there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DavidCEisen says:

      Because he’s not as good as Wade Boggs.

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    • Bronnt says:

      They also didn’t mention George Brett or Wade Boggs, so I don’t think this was meant to be the all-inclusive list of top third basemen. No slights against anyone.

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      • Chris Cwik says:

        I just went with three names near the top of the list at random.

        No rhyme or reason to the guys I picked.

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  16. 2cents says:

    I gotta go with Schmidt, Brett and Chipper as 1 2 and 3.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • fredsbank says:

      wade boggs says hi

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      • DCN says:

        No Eddie Mathews? 107.2 WAR, with an 11 year span of 6+ WAR seasons. First guy in the 500+ homer club to not play 1B or OF, and his OBP was actually higher than Brett’s even though he only batted .271. A pretty good fielder by reputation, too.

        +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • GiantHusker says:

      Schmidt or Matthews–flip a coin. Rodriguez isn’t eligible with most of his WAR at shortstop. Duh!

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  17. AndyS says:

    “Due to issue number two, it’s become tough to define any decision made by A-Rod as “selfless.””

    Why can’t PEDs be a team move?

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    • John Willumsen says:

      It could, I suppose, be considered a team move, at least in the short-term. But any time an athlete uses PEDs that have potentially harmful side-effects and long-term impacts, he or she can no longer be considered “selfless.” In using the potential harmful PEDs to gain a competitive advantage, the athlete is increasing the pressure on his or her fellow competitors to also take that potentially harmful drug or treatment in order to keep up. Nothing selfless about doing something that forces a fellow industry member to do something dangerous just to make sure they can keep their job/maximize their income. So, in some theoretical world, could it be a team move? A-Rod making the sacrifice of accepting the (potential) side-effects and long-term harm in order to help the team win now? Perhaps. But it’s still not “selfless” which is the term Cwik used.

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  18. Antonio Bananas says:

    I put Chipper over Schmidt. Chipper is underrated because when he was really good, everyone else was on steroids. Plus nothing in Chipper’s game stands out as extraordinary, but he does EVERYTHING really well.

    Chipper’s slash is .305/.404/.533, Schmidt’s is .267/.380/.527. Not really much of an argument. You can use the WAR argument, but come on, Chipper beats Schmidt in EVERY slash stat, and handily in average and OBP. Schmidt, accoding to career dWAR, was better defensively. I don’t trust most defensive metrics, especially not for a non-rangy position like 3B.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dan Greer says:

      Chipper is among my favorite players ever, but Schmidt’s numbers are more impressive within the context of his era. We don’t know if Chipper was on PEDs or not, so I don’t really consider that a factor at all. There’s people we know used, and everyone else.

      Jones is essentially an indifferent fielder for his career, and whether or not you trust the metrics, Schmidt was considered a superior defender.

      Chipper’s been an incredible player for a very long time, but he’s not the greatest 3B of all time. He’d be in the discussion for top 5 though.

      +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • bill says:

      Chipper is better in every way that I want him to frame the argument, and if you want to frame it in a different way, you’re wrong!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ryan says:

        Or, Chipper is far superior in every way except defense, where Chipper was pretty solid. Chipper is the greatest 3B of all-time, look it up.
        Defensive WAR for historical players is a joke at best, look up how it’s calculated.

        -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DavidCEisen says:

        What a stupid argument. “I’m right, but you need to do the research that supports my argument.”

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Jones career wRC: 143
      Schmitt career wRC: 147

      Jones average at best defensive player.
      Schmitt one of the better defenders at his position.

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DCN says:

        Schmidt was a better hitter for his era, and they’re not even close as fielders. Why is this an argument?

        Even though there’s a lot of good measurable data to support Schmidt in this particular case, what bothers me here is the instinct to disregard things we don’t have good data on. “I don’t trust most defensive metrics, especially not for a non-rangy position like 3B” is no reason to throw defense out of the argument. There’s a lack of precision, but not a lack of significance. Defensive stats may be unreliable, but the effect of defense can be very large: that belief is held by managers and players and confirmed by the best modern stats. If the imperfect stats and reputation both suggest a player had significantly superior defense, the reasonable thing is to credit him for his defense. If we don’t know exactly how much to credit him, make an estimate, or make a statement that acknowledges the margin of error.

        I like measurables, too, and I’m glad we’re always trying to improve them. But there’s sometimes an instinct to think things go away just because we can’t measure them well that can lead to wild inaccuracies.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ToddM says:

      AB, I’m going to have to clash with you here, too. As someone who clearly ‘loves him some triple-slash’, you really ought to use to correctly.

      Chipper hit for a signficantly better average than Schmidt, 38 points. That’s undeniable. Thing is, that batting average also factors into OBP and SLG. I’m sure you know that, but you aren’t thinking about it correctly.

      Schmidt’s OBP is only 24 points lower despite hitting 38 points lower. What does that mean? Schmidt walked MORE than Chipper.

      Schmidt’s SLG is only 6 points lower despite hitting 38 points lower. What does that mean? Schmidt’s ISO was 32 points higher, meaning he hit for power than Chipper.

      Chipper hit more singles (and more doubles, too, presumably, although I didn’t look it up). That’s it. Be careful with your use of triple-slash. This is a savvy fan’s site, and we’ll catch you if you start making stuff up. :-) (I really do mean this in a nice way)

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  19. Bill says:

    If your going to talk about Alex Rodriguez as one of the best 3B men ever, you also must add Dick Allen into the discussion.

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  20. Seels says:

    You can’t seriously make an argument for Chipper over Matthews Brett or Boggs — nevermind Schmidt. Chipper is at best the 5th best 3B ever and it’s incredibly unlikely he’ll move up at this point.

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    • ryan says:

      Brett .305/.369/.487 .857OPS 135OPS+ 3154h 317hr 1596rbi 665 2b
      Boggs .328/.415/.443 .858OPS 130OPS+ 3010h 118hr 1014rbi 578 2b
      Mathews .271/.376/.509 .885OPS 143OPS+ 2315h 512hr 1453rbi 354 2b
      Chipper .305/.404/.533 .937OPS 142OPS+ 2541h 441hr 1523rbi 509 2b and counting.

      Wow. That wasn’t hard at all.
      I wonder how many of you arguing Brett and Boggs are in your mid to upper 40’s and have difficulty accepting change.

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      • John DiFool says:

        OPS+ underrates Boggs’ on-base skills, and both he and Brett have longevity (and defense) going for them, and Brett had a fantastic peak (Boggs too). Chipper does have an argument over Mathews tho, since his glove wasn’t great either. And note I am one of Jones’ biggest fans (he went to my high school, after all).

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        I’m 21 and while it is close, Chipper Jones is not better than Boggs or Brett. Maybe Mathews, but not those guys.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • fredsbank says:

        jones may have been a better hitter (not batter, but hitter, because boggs was absolutely the superior batter) than those guys, but 3B isnt DH, you have to play defense too, and that’s why chipper is in no possible way the best

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  21. Simon says:

    “Chipper is underrated because when he was really good, everyone else was on steroids”

    And you have the daily test results that Chipper never took PEDs?

    The clear answer here is Cal Ripken Jr.

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  22. OldTimer says:

    In the 19th century (maybe early 20th?) 3B was a more important defensive position relative to the other middle infield position, at least compared to the modern era, no? They didn’t turn so many double plays back when, so the demands on the 2B and SS were less, esp. at 2B. Also, before a bunted two-strike foul was an out there were specialists who could put those soft baseballs down the third base line all day long, making the 3B fielder again more important. So unlike today big hitting 19th c. infielders tended to play 2B, and the slick fielding dudes were on 3B. Or so I have read.

    Is that sort of historical information incorporated in the discussion when we are comparing the best 3B of “all time”? Would it impact how WAR is adjusted for defensive value? Like should deadball era third sackers get way more defensive credit compared to live ball era thirdbasemen given the demands of the position at the time?

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  23. Phantom Stranger says:

    Chipper takes a hit in all-time rankings because his defense is much worse than the other top third basemen. It is not even arguable, his defense was suspect even in his prime and the Braves tried multiple times to move him to other positions.

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    • Ryan Bulliva says:

      “..the Braves tried multiple times to move him to other positions.”

      False.

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    • ryan says:

      Well, let’s check… fangraphs has UZR back to 2004, when Chipper was 32, so not exactly his prime… Since then he has a -1.7 UZR/150. Borderline, sure, but pretty decent for a 39 year old. Take out his awful 2006 and he would have a positive UZR.

      Is it that hard to imagine that in his actual prime he was an above average defender with a solid glove, arm and range? Or are you too set in your view to let actual facts and logic sway your perception?

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      • Phantom Stranger says:

        No, watching the entirety of his career since it began, on a nightly basis. I watch around 155 Braves games a year. A wonderful bat, but even in his best defensive years Chipper was slightly below-average. The current defensive metrics that are publicly available are largely a joke.

        -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • GTStD says:

        Ok… watching a 155 Braves game a year gives you a good way to instinctively evaluate Chipper. It does not give you a good way to instinctively know what is average. In fact, it completely removes your ability to know instinctively what is average, as most games by most 3rd basemen were happening while you were watching Chipper. There is a reason we rely on these metrics, and they aren’t a joke as long as you understand their limitations. It just takes a little more work than “I watched him play.” Unless you are an ML Scout, get over yourself and use a real argument.

        Also, they didn’t try to move him. They had an opportunity to sign a then-power hitting Vinny Castilla. Chipper said ok, move me to the outfield. It wasn’t because he was a liability at 3rd, it was because he was less of a liability in LF than Castilla would have been.

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  24. maguro says:

    This is a really tough call. ARod has to gain a few points for having a painting of himself as a Centaur, and lose a few points for dating Cameron Diaz.

    When it’s all said and done, I think you have to stick with Inge.

    +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Robbie G. says:

    This is an obvious point, but: many players are going to split time between position x and position y over the course of a career, and the split is often 50-50 or close to it. We also enjoy having the “Who is the greatest [fill in name of position here] of all time?” conversations, as baseball fans. So if you have a player like Alex Rodriguez, then you have to pick a position, you can’t just say that he is unqualified for both the “Who is the greatest 3B of all time?” and “Who is the greatest SS of all time?” conversations.

    This is also an obvious point, but: if A-Rod were putting up those stats during his Seattle years at 3B rather than SS, then his WAR would be even higher. So there’s that. Like it or not, Rodriguez probably deserves to be considered the greatest 3B of all time, although it’s presently a close call between him and Mike Schmidt. If/when A-Rod winds up in the top two or three all-time in career dingers, it probably is no longer a close call and Rodriguez emerges as something of a no-brainer selection. He’s no Honus Wagner, though, that’s for sure.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Extelleron says:

    I guess it will depend on whether we consider lifetime stat accumulation or pure dominance. If we are talking about the greatest player ever to play 3B, then I think Alex Rodriguez is definitely the best player to ever play the position. The seasons he has had at 3B (’05 and ’07 particularly) far exceed what anyone else has ever done at the position. So in terms of pure dominance…A-Rod is the winner I think. In terms of career numbers at 3B, he obviously hasn’t played enough to be the winner there, but he’s done quite a bit in a short amount of time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Css228 says:

      Schmidt also did use PEDs to hit his 548 HR’s played their his whole career, had the giant cavern that was the Vet to play in, and was never really surrounded by the best hitters that money could buy so that pitchers had to throw to him. I think ill vote Schmidt

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Dan Smith says:

    Wade Boggs was probably on steriods in 1987. Check his stats. Never hit more than 8 in a year over his 20(?) year career, then goes for 24 one season?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Dave G says:

    Schmidt career WAR: 108
    Brett career WAR: 85
    Chipper Jones Career WAR: 80

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      The triple slash is what I look at for 3B. They are there for offense, not defense. If this was an up the middle position then I’d say go for it. However, Chipper’s triple slash kills theirs.

      -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ToddM says:

        Era
        Context
        Era
        Context
        Era
        Context

        You’ve got to be better than that, Bananas, or you’re bananas.

        Chipper is a pretty awesome hitter that played third adequately. Mike Schmidt is a different kind of awesome hitter (his power in relation to his contemporaries was mucher greater) that was also a superior gloveman. A gloveman with explosive power. Think about that.

        +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Todd, I agree with Schmitd having explosive power and if your argument is that Schmidt was a lot better defensively then okay, I’ll accept that. However, I don’t see how there is ANY argument that Chipper was the better hitter. His triple slash was, in every way better, that takes into acount your contact ability, patience at the plate, and power. Chipper was the better overall hitter. Schmidt had great power for a long time, but his yearly totals would be “good” in Chipper’s era. Leading the league with 31 homers?

        Here’s what I’ll say. Chipper is underrated and Schmidt was a lot better than the other players in his era.

        -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I’m gonna end with this, because I’ve already posted entirely too much on here.

        There is no argument for Brett, he hit a lot and played good D, that doesn’t cut it. Boggs was pretty much the same way. Boggs and Brett should have been middle infielders or centerfielders. 3B is not a premium defensive position.

        Schmidt played D and hit the crap out of the ball. Chipper hit for contact, hit for power, and drew walks. I don’t think Chipper’s D is as bad as people say. I think it’s passable.

        So it depends on what you want out of a 3B. I want an absolute offensive force, good defense is a bonus. Chipper is better offensively, that’s why I pick Chipper. I’m also a huge Braves and Chipper fan. When I was 10 I made a wallet out of leather with the Braves logo on it in 4H. So yea, my opinion is a little skewed by my fandom.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Fredsbank, who cares if Chipper didn’t lead the league in anything, he did something NOBODY else has EVER DONE in 1999. That is a season with 40 doubles, 40 homers, 100 RBI, 20 SB, 100 runs scored, and a .300 average.

        That is a the beauty of Chipper Jones. He’s an all around offensive talent. Schmidt is a one trick poney on offense. If Schmitd’s power is so awesome, then why does Chipper have a higher slugging? He hits home runs, cool, but offensively, Chipper is so much better. People say Brett or Boggs, but they could only hit for average, people say Schmidt, but he only hit for power, Chipper isn’t the best at either, but he does BOTH really really really well. How many players, not 3B, but players in history of any era have a career .300/.400/.500? Less than 25 I think.

        Like I said, I’m definately a little bias being a big Bravos fan. Also like I said, Schmidt has power and D, Chipper is one of the best all around offensive players ever. I like offense out of a 3B, so I chose Chipper.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ToddM says:

        C’mon, AB, you’ve got to being doing this on purpose.

        Triple slash is not an absolute stat, because how “good” a player is must always be measured relative to his peers. We’re not measuring Schmidt relative to just 3b of his time, but all hitters of his time. Schmidt was a devastating offensive force — he put up seasons of 8+ WAR *six* times, and another four seasons of 7-8 WAR, and another four seasons over 5 WAR. Chipper’s had a very impressive *eight* seasons over 6 WAR, but has never broken 8 WAR. Ever. That’s right, in terms of offensive and defensive contribution relative to his peers at all positions, Schmidt had SIX different seasons better than Chipper’s best season. SIX, man. SIX!

        Actually, if you just look at the plain ‘ol batting numbers, the two players are REMARKABLY similar. Total plate appearances are within 1% of each other, and total batting wins are ever so slightly in Chipper’s favor (about 2%). It’s quite true that Chipper’s an underrated hitter, and that career .404 OBP is mightly impressive. Adjust for era, however, and Schmidt is almost exactly as valuable offensively. Let’s not pretend like the guy only hit for power and didn’t get on base, either, as a .380 OBP is still extremely good — the guy wasn’t Ryan Howard.

        Once you factor in defense — which does matter, by the way, even at third base — and you see why it’s fairly silly to claim Chipper is the greatest third baseman ever. Denegrate defensive stats all you want; if the gap is this big, and the eye test CLEARLY confirms what the stats suggest, then you know there’s a big difference. Chipper’s career fielding runs: -36.1. Schmidt’s career fielding runs: +127.0. That’s slightly below average compared to significantly above average. For a comparison, Adrian Beltre, generally considered the best defensive third baseman of his generation, is currently at +147.6 for his career. Scott Rolen, another top choice, is at +154.8. Schmidt’s not an all-time great with the glove, but he was very good.

        Chipper + some power + a lot of defense – some average = Schmidt. I’ll give up 35 points of average and add some K’s to get what Schmidt adds, even before adjusting for the era Schmidt played in.

        +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • GiantHusker says:

        Defense matters no matter how many times Bananas says otherwise.

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      • DCN says:

        Whether or not you look for defense at third base, balls get there and they make more outs for their team if they do a better job in the field, so a team with a better fielding third baseman (all other things being equal) will win more games, and that is the job of any baseball player.

        “They’re there for offense, not defense,” is inane. They play both. There’s no essential difference between a “premium defensive position” and an “offensive position” except the difference in the opportunity to save runs. If the player is able to save runs at their position, they are playing valuable defense.

        More colloquially: ask the pitchers who Brooks Robinson played behind, or the teams he played against, if defense matters at third. Or just watch a baseball game and see how many balls are hit hard down the line or through the gap. Or get your head out of your ass.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Not only that but isn’t WAR based on the averages of that season? Schmidt led the league in home runs with 36, 38, 38, 48, 31, 40, 36, and 37. While having those seasons is impressive, those numbers were TOPS. The offensive era Chipper played in was skewed. Chipper has a better average, on base, and slugging. I don’t think defense at third is as important as guys are making it out to be. Unless Schmidt and Brett had Brooks Robinson defense, which they didn’t, it doesn’t make up for Chipper’s slash beating theirs in every way.

      With Brett, there really weren’t that many amazing players of that era. Lots of really good players, but Brett (or Schmidt really) weren’t playing in the same era as guys putting up Griffey, A-Rod, Bonds, and Pujols numbers.

      Chipper is insanely underrated.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • don says:

        A hit saved on defense is a hit saved, whether it’s to left, center, or right. Up the middle positions generally get more chances but that’s accounted for already since all the defensive stats are counting stats.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • fredsbank says:

        (per bref where necessary)

        X
        80.7 WAR (36th position players(PP))
        142 OPS+ (67th)
        563 ABR/52.5 ABW (30th/35th)
        2.41 MVP shares (64th)
        581 wRAA
        143 wRC+
        -19 TZ/15651 Innings at 3B

        Y
        108.3 WAR (16th PP)
        147 (39th)
        576 ABR/58 ABW (28th/24th)
        4.96 MVP shares (11th)
        590 wRAA
        146 wRC+
        +129 TZ/18946 Innings at 3B

        who is better?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Fredsbank, how many of those stats are based on how everyone else hit? The MVP thing doesn’t even cross my mind, neither does OPS+ because, like I said, it’s the era. Chipper played in an era where there was at LEAST one 50 home run year every year.

        I guess it’s all on context. To me chipper is better because I don’t believe he was on PEDs. Schmidt was way better than his peers, but his peers kinda sucked compared to other eras.

        -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • fredsbank says:

        you say the era doesnt matter, then you say it does, then you say it doesnt, make up your mind.

        then you say it matters how he does compared to his peers, then you say it doesnt, then you say it does, make up your mind.

        years leading the league in HR
        schmidt: 8 (36,38,38,48,31,40,36,37)
        jones: 0

        you mention a lot of people hit 50+ during chipper’s career, so it was a bigger deal to lead in HR… he had 4 seasons over 30, 2 more at 30, and one of 29. his only year over 40 was his MVP year of 1999, and he didnt even lead the league that year. in any offensive category. at all.
        chipper’s home run numbers would not have the league. ever.
        schmidt had 14 years over 30, 2 over 40, only one of which led the league which was his 48 in 80, his first of 3 MVPs, and one season of 40 even. he might have topped 50 in 81 with a bit of luck and without the strike. he might not have lead the league with those today, but pretty much any other offensive environment he is competitive in, whereas chipper is not.

        career ISO-d of .113, ISO-p of .260 for schmidt
        career ISO-d of .99, ISO-p of .218 for jones

        you are blatantly refusing to acknowledge that schmidt is the superior player in front of overwhelming evidence, and frankly you need to chipper’s triple-slash’s dick out of your mouth and see what is right there in front of you.

        +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        -chipper jones was bad at defense, but that doesn’t count because i don’t care about defense
        -chipper’s slash line is better and the era he played in doesn’t count because it doesn’t except when we’re talking about other players then it does, but only to discount their results
        -it matters how everyone else at the time hit but only when the point is that everyone who played with schmidt was bad, if it’s chipper his slash line trumps all
        ….im confused. i think my favorite part is this: “With Brett, there really weren’t that many amazing players of that era. Lots of really good players, but Brett (or Schmidt really) weren’t playing in the same era as guys putting up Griffey, A-Rod, Bonds, and Pujols numbers.” being used to make the point that chipper was better because more people of his era were putting up big numbers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Vince says:

        If we’re not going to consider context (and we’re obviously not, if the fact that Chipper never led the league in anything is a point in his favor fer Chrissakes) my son hit .437/.542/.746 this year. Of course, it was JV, but context be damned!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • John DiFool says:

        Chipper was a batting champion-and Black Ink is suspect anymore if you use it to compare players across era’s and hence bigger vs. smaller leagues.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DCN says:

        Vince, does your son play third? If so, he could save time not practicing on defense, because I hear that the job of a third baseman is to hit.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ToddM says:

        Ouch. But I LOL’d.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Oliver says:

    Albert Pujols has filled in at 3B a bit this year. Couldn’t his name be in this discussion?

    Obviously the above is a joke, but I think it’s fair to split the category and say that Schmidt was the best all-time while A-Rod has had the most productive seasons at the hot corner. Also, I think it’s fair to judge players by the positions they played the most games, so he’s still a shortstop in my mind.

    Also, in re. Robbie G: isn’t the positional adjustment for SS greater than 3B?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Robbie G. says:

      Yes, very dumb mistake on my part, thanks for pointing that out. I still say that, in 2-3 years, Alex Rodriguez’s accomplishments are going to be impossible to ignore, and that it’s going to be tough to argue that anybody else is “The Greatest 3B of All Time.” He may be slowing down but only relative to his own ridiculously high standards. He is still the best 3B in MLB, according to WAR, although this is hardly the year of the 3B in MLB.

      Mike Schmidt is a good example of a player from a bygone era (and not even that bygone of a bygone era!) who presumably would have benefitted tremendously from the significant advances made in recent years in the areas of medical technology and services along with nutrition science. Schmidt’s body took a beating from the get-go. Someone correct me if I am wrong about this, but I believe that Schmidt had at least one knee surgery prior to even making it to the big leagues. Schmidt was such a good fielder that, prior to these surgeries, he played shortstop. Imagine Mike Schmidt, with that power, playing at the shortstop position. Might’ve happened had his career begun in 1995 or so. The PEDs discussion should be incorporated into this larger discussion, as PEDs are very conspicuous examples of said advances. Context is everything!

      One more Schmidt note: did anybody else in here make the mistake of reading his autobiography? My god! Horrible!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  30. dave in gb says:

    Well, between 1960 – 1971 (probably his best 12 years), Brooks Robinson averaged a 6.3 WAR. Then if you look at his insane UZR during those and past his prime (until 1975), yes, he deserves to be well within the discussion.

    Overall, I would still give the nod to Mike Schmidt as “best 3rd baseman” because he was so great there for so long his entire career.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  31. gregsov says:

    does WAR not compare on the season’s context? thu, a player’s era should not matter? just curious.

    also, where’s Pie Tranor?

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      traynor probably shouldn’t even be a hall of famer.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DCN says:

      There’s a school of thought that says you have to timeline for improvements in quality of play, especially talent pool. E.g., Ruth was only playing against white Americans.

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  32. bSpittle says:

    no he does not.
    at all.

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  33. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    I would vote for him to be in the hall of fame.

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  34. cs3 says:

    ” Well, between 1960 – 1971 (probably his best 12 years), Brooks Robinson averaged a 6.3 WAR. Then if you look at his insane UZR during those and past his prime (until 1975), yes, he deserves to be well within the discussion.”
    ==========================================
    so youre going to count defense twice?

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  35. macseries says:

    joe crede. joe crede. joe crede.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. woodman says:

    Going by the title I thought this was going to be a preview of Brett Lawrie’s domination of the Major League Baseball.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  37. cwendt says:

    The thesis of the article is a comparison between A-Rod and Schmidt that brings up two caveats, then doesn’t actually analyze the caveats.

    I will state up front that I have a pro-A-Rod, pro-Yankee bias.

    The question: Which player is the better 3B? A-Rod has 110.8 WAR, Schmidt 110.5.

    1. However, A-Rod benefits from playing SS for 8 full seasons before switching to SS. We’ll take roughly 4 WAR off his total for positional adjustment in a counterfactual world where A-Rod only played 3B. We can’t know what his UZR would have been under those conditions, so let’s leave it as is.

    2. Furthermore, A-Rod was an admitted PED user from 2001-2003, and probably used before. There is no definitive proof that steroids or HGH enhance performance (we don’t know who used and who didn’t, so we don’t have a control group, and steroids aren’t randomly assigned to players, so we can’t establish selection bias).

    My preference is to assess a flat penalty for the years that we suspect a player of steroid use of 25% of their season war. Since I suspect A-Rod actually used steroids from 1999-2003 (when he put up insane .300 ISOs each year and there was no testing), this works out to about a 10 WAR penalty.

    After these caveats, we have A-Rod at 96.8 WAR if he had played his entire career steroid free at 3B, and Schmidt at 110.5. By WAR, that makes A-Rod the 3rd greatest “3B” of all time.

    Given that 3B is the easier defensive position to play, it’s easier to make this judgment than to try to imagine A-Rod as a career SS.

    3. In his favor, A-Rod is not done at his position. Realistically, he has at least 3 full-seasons at 3B, plus the 2/3 of a season this year.

    How many WAR can we project for A-Rod going forward? If we think the answer is 14, and there are no further steroid incidents, we can make an argument that he is the greatest 3B of-all time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  38. J says:

    Whoever used Schmidt’s leading his league in HR with 31 as a reason to downplay his achievements is an idiot. There was a prolonged strike that year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave S says:

      Yes, and that was possibly Schmidt’s greatest season on a per at bat basis. He lost about a third of that season. I refused to watch baseball for a while after that.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  39. NickC says:

    I think other things need to be taken into account when discussing the offensive stats during Chipper’s career. You have to consider that the ball was juiced then too, leading to greater offensive numbers across the board. It wasn’t just steroids.

    Back to the original point though, and as Oliver said Pujols has played 3rd this year and a total of 99 games over his career. Alex Rodriguez has played 1040 games there, so what’s the cutoff as to how many games you have to play there? The easiest is obviously you just consider the WAR of the time played at a certain position.

    It’s a similar question to that of “Who will be the greatest catcher of this generation?”. The obvious answer is Joe Mauer, but if he moves away from the position, can he still be included?

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  40. CircleChange11 says:

    Mike Schmidt.

    Next question.

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  41. Damien says:

    Good points about context and era. That relativity measure is not merely a baseline versus peers (i.e. generating the argument “well, Schmidt’s peers were not as good as Chippers) but a myriad of underlying systemic factors including but not limited to juiced balls, ballpark size (each of which have augmented the offensive numbers of the past 20 years).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  42. CampBrice says:

    Wade Boggs hit homers in 1987 because he could. He was just not that type of hitter. He’s easily the 2nd or 3rd best 3B man of all time

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  43. Ameer says:

    A lot of people have mentioned Chipper and the fact that he has done it all with knee problems. If he’s in the discussion, I don’t think Ron Santo can be ignored. He had a career 79.3 WAR compared to Chipper’s current 86.0, and he also had a better peak if you believe in WAR (’64-’67). I’m not going to claim he was the best 3b ever, but I think his name should be in the discussion as one of the best, especially if we’re bringing up guys like Chipper and Boggs.

    And his health problems may have affected him more than any of the other guys mentioned.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. Css228 says:

    Schmidt was the all time best all around 3B. You can’t make an argument A-Rod is better based on WAR mostly accumulated at a different position considered at a different value when it comes to accumulating wins. Because SS is more defensively valuable, if he played the position well (which he did) of course he was gonna accumulate more wins more quickly. Now if A-Rod had accumulated all his WAR at third this might be a different conversation. He didn’t. So let’s save ourselves some time and just all agree the Michael Jack Schmidt was the greatest 3B ever/the 3B with the best sandwich named after him (try a schmitter sometime its delicious)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  45. Compromise! says:

    I’m all for the following, which are not mutually exclusive:

    “Mike Schmidt was the best career 3B of all time.”
    and
    “Alex Rodriguez had the best 2-3 seasons a 3B has ever had.”

    I was very much an A-Rod hater a few years ago, but I’m over it. My latest haterade flavor of the month is Anthony Wiener!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. Neuter Your Dogma says:

    1. Schmidt
    2.
    3.
    4.
    5.
    6-10. 5-way tie.

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  47. DCN says:

    Wait, what if Jeter moves to third his last year or two? I know outfield is more likely, but we have to consider the possibility, right?

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  48. dougiejays says:

    The whole mid-career transition thing makes this question a little ridiculous on premise. How about trying to build a 9-player lineup and then slotting accordingly? If we agree ARod has to makes it at either SS or 3B, then we can then compare Jeter to Schmidt and make the decision that way (after taking ARod’s defense into account, of course).

    Because, really, how many guys stay at one position their whole careers? The other way to do it, I guess, would be peak season vs career.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  49. Steve L says:

    Chipper played LF for 2 seasons, so his counting stats didn’t all come at 3B. He was a roughly equivalent hitter to Schmidt once you adjust for era, but far worse defensively. Baserunning is roughly even too (Schmidt stole a bit more but played in an era where players ran more). If you *really* value offense over all else, and just care about primary position instead of total time spent at the position, I wouldn’t be offended with ranking Jones #2 all time at 3B (I don’t agree, but it’s a defensible position). But there’s just no good argument that he was better than Schmidt, as he was at best an equivalent hitter (I’d argue he was worse), and a significantly worse fielder.

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  50. Blake s. says:

    There are 6 GREAT 3rd Basemen

    Mike Schmidt
    George Brett
    Alex Rodriguez
    Brooks Robinson
    Wade Boggs
    and Eddie Mathews

    In that order, Rodriguez would probably be at the top by now, but the others weren’t juicers.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  51. Blake s. says:

    Lets look at 162 game average
    AVG H 2B 3B HR Fielding%

    Brett .305 189 40 8 19 .951
    1MVP
    9AS
    1GG
    3000 Hit Club

    C. Jones .304 178 36 3 31 .953 1MVP
    6AS
    0GG

    Very Comparable year to year, I’d take Brett for a career. But Schmidt is in on a different level.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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